Thursday, November 26, 2015

100 Thanks (2015)

As has been my tradition since I had to pinch hit at a Thanksgiving Mass at St. Agnes in 2004, here is my annual list of the 100 things I am thankful for.  God bless you all and Happy Thanksgiving!  --Father Manny
1.     My priesthood
2.     My mother
3.     My father
4.     My sister
5.     My brother
6.     My nephews
7.     My brother in law
8.     My godchildren
9.     My parish
10. My school
11. Being a pastor
12. My Immaculate Family
13. My parishioners 
14. My former parishioners
15. My students
16. My former students
17. Signing and handing out diplomas for the first time
18. My best friend
19. All my friends
20. All my cousins (even the crazy ones)
21. Preschoolers and 1st graders dressed up as pilgrims and Native Americans (and a turkey!)
22. Teachers
23. My staff
24. Balanced budgets 
25. Not losing sleep over things I can’t control
26. Hialeah
27. Carnival (even rainy ones)
28. Beignets and Fried Oreos
29. Late night post carnival meetings
30. Friday night card games
31. Piano Man (“Now John at the bar is a friend of mine…”
32. Captiva Sunsets
33. That elusive redfish
34. My new fishing rod
35. The people who love me who gave it to me (Chumpes!!!!!)
36. Their video tributes
37. Video tributes from Astoria
38. Turning 40 (I surrender)
39. The party that I will eventually have
40. Birthday surprises from my students and their parents (TD!)
41. Reading my 8th graders’ Thanksgiving lists
42. Not getting half of the things that they’re thankful for
43. The insights I get into who they are from reading their lists
44. Compiling all their lists into one and reading that list to the entire school
45. Truckloads of donated Thanksgiving food
46. Flag football games and primary baseball games
47. Alumni who come to visit
48. Not fully understanding the point of Snapchat
49. Netflix (just Netflix, nothing else)
50. My nightly episode of Seinfeld
51. The Parks and Recreation Finale
52. Ron Swanson (“Give me all the bacon and eggs you have”)
53. The West Wing (Pilgrim detectives!)
54. Don Draper finally at peace (I think)
55. The new Star Wars movie 
56. The new James Bond movie (yes, I thought it was good)
57. Having visited three of the five locations where it was filmed (that’s pretty good)
58. The Dolphins (I’m not paid to say that)
59. Coach Philbin
60. Road Trips
61. London
62. Walks along the Thames
63. New York City
64. My annual view of Manhattan from my Jersey City hotel room
65. Washington, D.C.
66. The view from the Speaker’s Balcony
67. Marching for Life
68. Walking the entire length of the National Mall
69. Former students who greet you in every city
70. Sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
71. The Korean War Memorial covered in snow
72. The men and women who protect our freedoms and who aren’t home for Thanksgiving
73. The families who miss them
74. Pope Francis
75. His visit to Cuba and the United States
76. His homily at Madison Square Garden
77. His current visit to Africa
78. The Year of Mercy
79. Upcoming Pilgrimages (July 25-August 5 from Barcelona to Lourdes to Nice to Assisi and finally to Rome to walk through the Holy Doors…paid political announcement: contact me for more information)
80. Random texts from former students
81. Random pictures of engagement rings
82. Joyous phone calls when I’m asked to witness a marriage or baptize a child
83. Phone calls asking for confession
84. Other people’s dogs (except the Rottweiler next door who always barks at me) 
85. Young couples who truly understand the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
86. The faithful who treasure the gift that is Sunday Mass…every Sunday
87. The faithful who are starting to get it
88. The Gloria at the Easter Vigil
89. Rhapsody in Blue 
90. The Florida Keys
91. Fishing with my dad
92. Long talks with my mom
93. The theater with my sister
94. Memories of my brother
95. Quiet time with the Lord
96. Celebrating Mass in so many beautiful cathedrals, basilicas and churches around the world, yet feeling at home only behind the altar at Immaculate
97. Nighttime walks staring up at our bell tower
98. The breezes during those walks that remind me of the presence of the Holy Spirit
99. The maternal protection of the Virgin Mary
100.       Celebrating Thanksgiving with my parishioners in the morning and with my family in the evening and feeling God’s love throughout this blessed day

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is Christ the King of Your Heart?

“He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him.” (Daniel 7:14)

According to American legend, at the end of our Revolutionary War, George Washington was so popular with the people of this young nation that they offered to make him king.  Obviously, General Washington turned it down and became our first president, but his acts, apocryphal or not, charted the course of our country as we are unaccustomed to being under the rule of a king.  When we declared our independence, most of the world was ruled by kings, and even going back to the time of Jesus and further back to the Old Testament, kings ruled with a strong hand over their subjects.  Kings were lords over the lands and over their people.  People would bow in the presence.  Some were hands on and led their armies into war while others ruled lazily from the protection of the throne.  In short, we all equate kingship to great power and rule.

Enter Jesus Christ who institutes a new style of kingship: the servant-king.  Jesus tells Pilate in today’s gospel what we will celebrate next month: “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world…(John 18:37).”  Yet what confounded Pilate, and many of the disciples for that matter, is that if Jesus was truly king, then where was his power?  Where were his subjects?  Where were all the trappings that come with kingship?  On Friday, in preparing the school children for today’s feast, I asked them what popped into their head when they heard the word king.  Power.  Crown.  Throne.  Wealth. These were some of the things they said. I took the crown and the throne and asked them that if Jesus was king, then were are his crown and his throne?  We all agreed that his crown was the crown of thrones, but when I asked what his throne was, a little 1st grader raised his hand and said “the cross.”  Even children get it.  There on the cross we see Christ our King at his most vulnerable but also at his most powerful because it is there that he vanquishes sin and death.  Listen to today’s Collect: “Almighty every-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe, grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery, may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise…”  It is on the cross that he demonstrates the power of his kingship because he frees us from the slavery of sin and death.

But there’s another dimension of Christ’s kingship that we sometimes overlook.  We celebrate this solemnity today and many have given their lives over the centuries because we firmly believe that Jesus is King.  This is a central tenet of our faith, and if we believe the prophesy from the first reading that the Son of Man received dominion over all creation then he has dominion over us.  But because our God is a loving God, he is not a tyrannical king that seizes our love or our hearts.  He wants us to learn from his servant-king example, in which we were all baptized into, and give him our hearts on our own.  So here’s the question I pose to you today:  how much of our heart does Christ the King have dominion over?  Do we give him just a part of our heart like when we give him an hour a week on Sunday?  Or do we surrender and give him our entire heart and soul?  To give him anything less would be a disservice to Christianity.  Christ deserves our entire heart.  Every word and action of ours should scream to the world that Jesus is King of our lives, for if we really believe that Christ is Lord and King then everyone would know it.  Is Christ the King of your homes?  Is Christ the King in your workplace?  And yes it must be said: is Christ the King of this parish?  This is the challenge of today’s feast.  How much of our heart belongs to Christ the King?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Running on Empty

Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." (Mark 12:43-44)

We are presented with two very generous widows in today’s readings who give from what they do not have.  They are giving from a place of love because even in their poverty they see the need to help others.  We must remember, as is pointed out when Jesus raised the son of the widow of Naim, that widows in Jesus’ time were particularly vulnerable to poverty because they did not have someone to provide for them.  We constantly hear references in the Scriptures of the Lord favoring the “widow and the orphan” because they were the forgotten, the littlest among the people.  In the first reading, a widow who had only enough to feed herself and her son was resigned to starving to death after she had prepared their last meal during a great famine.  Yet this widow puts her trust in Elijah the prophet who promises that her jars of flour and oil would not go empty during the famine.  She gives the prophet something to eat even if it meant that she and her son would possibly go without eating.  She gave from what she did not have.

In the gospel, Jesus observes another widow giving “from her poverty.”  She also was giving from what she did not have.  Jesus points her out to the disciples after expressing his disappointment with the scribes for “devouring the houses of widows”.  They gave from their surplus while the poor widow gave from what she did not have. 

Both these widows show us how to love when we have nothing to give.  So often we are called to perform acts of love when we literally have nothing to offer.  I think of parents who get home tired after a long day at work, and they still find the energy to spend time with their children, cook them dinner, help them with their homework, play with them, bathe them and tuck them in.  And this is what Pope Francis asked parents to do a couple of weeks ago when he told parent to “waste time with your children.”  That may not sound very productive, but parenthood is not about productivity, it’s about love.  I think of my sister who works tirelessly every day and I’ve seen her come and pick up my nephews at my parent’s house and think: “she and my brother in law have another five hours of parenting before they put them to bed.”  Parents may be running on empty when they get home, but this is where the Lord works through them because they are sharing their love from a place of nothingness and vulnerability just like the widows.  Yesterday, I was reading the commentary of Bishop Robert Barron on these readings and he said, “God reveals himself precisely at that moment of our greatest vulnerability and need.” He comes to our aid when we feel like we can’t go any further.  It’s not just parents.  It’s all of us.  We are all called to love and to give of ourselves as Christians, and sometimes we are called to share this love in moments of great pain, suffering, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, etc.  And this is where we need to trust God to take over for us.  We may be running on empty and things may seem impossible, but we need to stop concentrating on the impossible and focus on what is possible for that is when the impossible becomes possible. 

A small gesture of love, like the widow in the gospel, is enough to get the attention of Jesus.  Sometimes in our weariness and out of our nothingness the Lord can work marvels through us if we let him.  We have to trust him.  Even though her life was in peril, the widow in the first reading trusted God.  Even though she didn’t have a dime left, the widow in the gospel trusted God.  When we are running on empty and have literally nothing to left to give, do we trust God enough to take over?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Roadmap to Sainthood

“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)

About four years ago, I made a conscience effort at the end of confessions to encourage the penitents to grow in holiness.  When you think of it, that is why we go to confession.  We go because we are not living out our baptismal call to be holy.  And so today as we celebrate All Saints Day, we are reminded that our goal as Christians, as human beings, should be nothing more and nothing less than to quite simply be saints.  Impossible?  Who says?  Christ reassured us in the gospel a few weeks ago that nothing is impossible for God.  Our world needs saints and needs them now.  We, as God’s holy people, are called to look upon those who have gone before us as inspiration of how to live a holy life.

I look upon the children here this morning who are dressed up as saints and I think about the heroic lives they lived which should be something that our children strive for every single day.  These children have dreams, big dreams, of doing great things.  The worse thing you could tell a child is that something is impossible or out of their reach.  So we want to start teaching them now in our school and CCD program that sainthood is what we all aspire to because we want to be with God.   Today we don’t simply honor the saints because as St. Bernard once pointed out in a homily, “What do [the saints] care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of their son?...Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else,  a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself.”  Today we look to their examples so that we may one day join them in heaven. 

So how do we become saints and achieve this impossible task?  Well, Jesus leaves us a roadmap if you will, a guide to holiness of life in today’s gospel in the Beatitudes.  I just want to focus on a few of the Beatitudes because they are traits that we need to cling to as Christians striving for sainthood.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Another translation in the Bible for righteousness is justice.  We all long for justice.  In this country, we pledge in the Pledge of Allegiance “and justice for all.”  The saints are those who worked for justice tirelessly, who took care of the poor, clothed the naked, fed the hungry, gave shelter to the homeless, and worked to correcting many of societies injustices.   These are traits that should spur us to action when we come across any type of injustice.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
The saints showed tremendous mercy.  Here in the first row, one of our little girls is dressed like St. Fautina who taught us about the Divine Mercy of Jesus.  We need to be merciful in a world that has little patience for tolerance for mercy.  We cannot be vengeful or spiteful; we must always be projecting the mercy and love of God.  How can we not forgive when our Heavenly Father forgives us constantly?

Blessed are the clean of heart for they will see God.
As I look upon these children, I ponder all the impurities that you as their parents have to shield them from.  Children have that saintly innocence that the world is constantly trying to rob them of.  There is no parental control big enough to keep this purity that they now possess, but that should not prevent us from working tirelessly to protect our children from the evils of this world.  And we as adults, when we allow our hearts to get cluttered by impurities, we lose sight of God in our lives.  Many of the saints recognized their sinfulness, and worked through those sins, confessed them, in order to see God better and discern his will in their lives.  We must always work to see beyond worldly evils and focus only on the face of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Among the little saints in front of me, I see three martyrs: St. Lucy, St. Agnes, and St. Cecilia.  Three young girls who loved God so much that nothing on this earth could tear them away from their Lord and because of this love they suffered martyrdom.  Many of these early Christian martyrs practiced their faith knowing full well that it could cost them their lives.  Jesus warned his disciples in the gospels that they would be persecuted for following him.  Unfortunately, 2000 years later, this persecution has not stopped.  This is where we must remember our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria and the Middle East who are persecuted for their faith.  They went to Mass this morning to celebrate All Saints Day just like us, but they went not knowing what would happen on their way to church or on the way back or what would happen in the church.  They went in the face of persecution because like those early Christian martyrs, their love for God is so strong that nothing and no one on this earth could tear them away from the love of Christ that is bestowed upon us in the Eucharistic celebration.  These brothers and sisters  that suffer religious persecution are daily modern reminders to us that we need saints in our world.  We need men and women and children to rise up to demonstrate to the world that holiness is possible.   Because if we are not striving every single day to be saints, then what is the point of calling ourselves Christians?